A Homily for Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
March 14, 2024
Holy Ghost Church – 8:00 Mass
Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 106:19-20, 21-22, 23; John 5:31-47

Audio Recording

 

“How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?”

Jesus continues his countercharge by repudiating human praise and honor. The Greek word translated here as “praise” (doxa) can also mean “glory” or “honor.” Jesus’ words about praise evoke these ancient categories of honor and shame. 

In Greco-Roman society, the society of Jesus’ day, honor was the most important cultural value. Honor was the public recognition and praise given to a person for great achievement or simply for being associated with the right people, such as belonging to an upper-class family. 

Examples of this public honor were the massive monuments built throughout the Roman world to glorify the emperors. Shame, the opposite of honor, was public disapproval and scorn directed at a person for disgraceful actions. In this honor-shame culture, people might go to great lengths to gain honor and to avoid shame.

Even though honor was the major social value in his day, Jesus teaches that such human esteem is empty, especially if those giving it refuse God. The refusal to receive Jesus is a refusal to receive the Father’s Word and the love given through him. 

Jesus connects his opponents’ refusal to believe in him with their preference for praise from other people instead of praise from God. This valuing of human honor is a source of human blindness to God’s action. 

If we’re too concerned with winning praise and recognition from others, we can be dulled in mind and heart to God’s Word. Those who seek human honor are so busy seeking the approval of others that they are too busy to pray, to worship, to reflect deeply on God’s word. 

Ironically, by seeking this honor, we can make ourselves the slaves of others because we allow their opinions to determine how we should live. This temptation to seek human rather than divine approval is especially strong for those in leadership positions of any kind—occupational, political, religious, and so forth. 

Since the success of these leaders is often measured by how much people like them, it is easy for them to forget that they are accountable first of all to God and that their true value is derived from the approval given by God. 

This was certainly the case in Jesus’ time. His opponents sought after fleeting praise from other people, neglecting the only thing of lasting consequence: the praise, or approval, that God gives.

The desire for fame and praise from people can be a powerful temptation to sin. At one level, it can lead us to do bad things so that others may approve of us. At a deeper level, the desire for fame can make us so self-absorbed that we lose sight of what is good and important in life: love of God and love of neighbor. 

Jesus is calling us today to keep our priorities straight and to live life according to God’s Word, who is truth and goodness itself. By doing this we will gain the only praise that is truly important, God’s praise.